Getting a tattoo is a serious matter. Sure, some people have a wild night out where they get a tattoo they regret the following day, but you don’t want to be that person. Most people get a tattoo that means something important to them. That’s why it’s good to know the meaning of tattoos.

Not all tattoos have underlying meanings, but enough of them do that you’ll probably want to take the time to learn about them. This article has 20 tattoo meanings that many people aren’t aware of. Read through these so you’ll be prepared for your first or next tattoo appointment.

A Brief History of Tattoos

Tattoos aren’t just really fantastic body art that people recently started getting. They date back to ancient times; researchers and archaeologists believe that they date back as far as 4,000 B.C. in ancient Egypt. The evidence of this is found in ancient figurines and tomb scenes.

In ancient Egypt, tattoos were mainly for women to protect them when giving birth. In ancient Greece and ancient Rome, they were for both genders and indicated that the person belonged to a specific religion or sect. During ancient times in what is now South America, people, especially women, often had large, ornate tattoos.

Over in ancient China, during the Han dynasty, officials often put on the face of criminals to indicate that they are a danger to society. In some cases, they also marked Chinese heroes as such.

In ancient Japan, starting around A.D 3, people began to see tattoos positively, and men would adorn themselves with beautiful tattoo art. Native Americans often had tattoos on their faces and arms.

Tattoos were common in many different cultures worldwide, and in each culture, they had very specific meanings. Today, some tattoos are simply novelty art, but most hold specific meanings and/or purposes. The following section will highlight 20 tattoo meanings you may not know about.

scars tattoo meanings
20 Tattoo Meanings That Are Unknown to Most People

These symbols are popular for a reason!

1. Swallows

These birds were often symbols for sailors. The number of swallows could indicate how many successful voyages a sailor has taken. There were usually seen in pairs to show when the sailor set off and another to mark his return home. It’s also thought that if the sailor drowns at sea, the swallow can take their soul to heaven.

2. The Diving Girl

This tattoo is a bit more modern and is a traditional American tattoo. It’s believed to be a variation or evolution of the Jantzen Swimwear Company’s logo. The significance is that this company made women’s first form-fitting, activewear style swimsuits. Before that, women’s swimsuits were oversized, baggy, and unsuitable for swimming. In a sense, the diving woman can be seen as a token of women’s liberation from being covered up all the time.

3. Unalome

This is an ancient Buddhist symbol that indicates a spiritual journey towards enlightenment. The spiral design indicates life’s turmoil during the person’s quest, while the straight line indicates that the wearer has found the path and achieved enlightenment.

4. Butterfly

Butterfly tattoos are immensely popular, especially among women. However, they have a deep meaning in addition to their beauty and vivid colors. In Native American culture, a butterfly is a spirit animal that represents transformation. It’s a great tattoo for someone who has improved their life.

5. Doves

Throughout time, doves have often been recognized as symbols of spiritual peace. They are often paired with rest-in-peace imagery to symbolize that the spirit of the deceased is at peace and has been whisked away to heaven. The soft cooing of these birds is also associated with peace since it can create a calming effect.

If you see doves often, this is what it means.

6. Na Maha Samred

This detailed tattoo is a symbol of success. Some say it’s a symbol of power. These meanings can be combined to mean, “the more successful you are in life, the more powerful you become.”

7. Maple Leaves

Maple leaves aren’t a popular tattoo and it’s probably because most people don’t know that they have a deep meaning. In China and Japan, a red maple leaf symbolizes beauty and love. It’s also a symbol of sexuality and the sweetness of love. The tattoo meanings of maple leaf designs could be that the person is very sexual or very romantic.

8. Lighthouses

This is another tattoo that stems from sailors. Lighthouses represent guidance, hope, and comfort for sailors. Getting a lighthouse tattoo is a way for people to remind themselves that life won’t always be stormy and grey. The tattoo helps them to look forward to calm, sunny days.

9. Fox

The fox is another Native American spirit animal. You may have heard the saying, “as sharp as a fox.” This comes from the Native American belief that the fox represents anticipation, observation, and stealth. In fact, foxes are often portrayed this way in modern culture.

10. Gungnir

This symbol is from Norse mythology. It is the name of the spear of Odin, the mighty Norse God which may be the most popular God out of all ancient mythology. A tattoo of the Gungnir represents many of the traits associated with Odin. The most popular characteristics are wisdom, healing, war, and victory.

See nine tattoos that are actually fantastic scar cover-ups.

11. Eye of Horus

In ancient Egyptian lore, Horus was the love child of Osiris (who was brought back from the dead) and Isis. He got revenge for his father’s death, losing his eye in the process. His sight was restored with a magic eye. One of the most common interpretations of this tattoo is a reawakening of your health. It can also be seen as dominating over your enemies.

12. Kwatakye Atiko (also called Gyawu Atiko)

This is an adinkra symbol from the Ghana culture. This West African symbol is said to be the hairstyle of an Asante war hero. It represents bravery and fearlessness. Tattoo meanings featuring this symbol indicate someone who is brave, truthful, and honorable. A soldier would be a great example.

13. Eye of Providence

This is a famous symbol you often see in art and fashion. While it is very recognizable, many people don’t know its meaning. It symbolizes the eye of God and represents the fact that God has his eye on his people. It’s one of the more obvious tattoo meanings you’ll come across.

14. Sword

Sword tattoos are popular because they’re just really cool, but many people don’t know what a sword (or a sword tattoo) represents. The most obvious representation is a warrior or a knight, but it’s a little deeper than that. It represents honor, chivalry, strength, power, authority, and protection. It can also express the desire for justice.

15. The Chinese Symbol for Friendship

Chinese symbols are trendy for tattoos. However, some people get them without knowing the meaning. Chinese characters themselves don’t necessarily have a “deep” meaning. They are a part of the Mandarin language. However, if you pair it with some other symbol or intricate design, it could represent deep tattoo meanings for the person wearing it.

16. Bald Eagle Tattoos

As the national bird of the United States, the bald eagle symbolizes freedom and the ability to soar to new heights. A bald eagle tattoo is a way to show American patriotism. It’s also a way to indicate that the person is determined to be the best they can be in life.

17. Turtle

You may not have ever thought of getting a turtle tattoo unless you’re into The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, in Native American culture, a turtle is a spirit animal representing good health and long life. This makes sense because turtles can live for hundreds of years.

18. The Blessing

This is a Wiccan symbol that represents the blessing of the moon goddess. It’s similar to the more popular Triple Goddess symbol; the three teardrops represent the Mother, the Maiden, and the Crone, just as the Triple Goddess symbol does.

19. The Pentacle

Some people mistakenly associate this symbol with evil or dark magic. It is actually a symbol of protection. This represents the four elements, and the fifth star point represents the wearer.

20. Egyptian Scarab

In modern times, people see the beetle as a destructive creature associated with villains or evil. In ancient Egypt, the scarab represented renewal and rebirth. They were also related to the rebirth of the sun each day. As a tattoo, it can be a symbol of spiritual rejuvenation for the wearer.

tattoo meanings
Final Thoughts on Understanding Tattoo Meanings

Tattoos are an art form that is only limited by the skill of the tattoo artist. More often than not, people get tattoos that represent personal meanings. However, it helps to know what certain symbols or images mean historically or culturally so the tattoo can make sense.

If you’re looking for something that hasn’t been done a million times, these 20 tattoo meanings and symbols are a great place to start. Not only have you sparked some new ideas by reading this, but you’ve increased your knowledge. Hopefully, this information has helped spark your creativity for your next tattoo.